Families Accuse Hospital of Hiding Mold That Killed 6 Kids

(CN) – Joined by one teen who survived, families of three children who died from fungal infections they contracted at the Seattle Children’s Hospital claim in a class action that the hospital hid its mold problem for more than a decade. 

According to the complaint filed Monday in the King County Superior Court Monday, the hospital had knowledge of an Aspergillus mold issue since 2005 and worked to hide it from the general public.

“Defendant engaged in a cover-up designed to reassure its patients, doctors, nurses, and the public that its premises were safe, when in fact they were not,” the complaint states.

Lead plaintiff Patrick Wills was the father of 3-year-old Aiden, who died in March 2009 from a fungal infection. It would be a decade later, the complaint notes, before the hospital would identify six deaths and 14 infections linked to Aspergillus exposure.

This compilation photo shows four former patients at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Clockwise from left Aiden Wills, Whitney Stettler, Ian Gunnell and Logan Shaffer. Stettler sued the hospital on Dec. 2, joined by the representatives of the Wills, Gunnell and Shaffer estates.

The complaint refers to the children’s hospital as “one of the most revered pediatric medical facilities in the country,” and it notes that the admission of mold problems since 2001 “shocked the public.” 

Seven infections and one death have been linked to mold contamination at the hospital in 2019 alone. The outbreak’s underlying key factor seems to be issues with the hospital’s air-handling system, according to the complaint. The class also claims that the hospital identified five similar deaths between 2001 and 2014.

“We want the jury to explain through the award of a verdict just how terribly these violations impacted the children who died or were otherwise injured due to the management’s total breach of trust and care,” plaintiffs’ attorney Karen Koehler said Tuesday.  

Seattle Children’s Hospital apologized for the Aspergillus exposures in a Nov. 18, 2019, press release.

“This is a heartbreaking time for all of us at Seattle Children’s,” said Jeff Sperring, CEO of Seattle Children’s Hospital. “The work we do here is all about kids and their families. Patients, families and the community rely on us to provide safe, quality care. We’ve let them down.”

Sperring also announced in the press release that the hospital installed new rooftop air handlers and high efficiency filters in all 14 operating rooms and adjacent areas.   

Aspergillus mold is one of the most common types of mold that most people breathe everyday, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Despite its commonality, the mold can cause a number of health problems including lung and sinus infections in patients with weakened immune systems. Approximately 180 different species of Aspergillus have been identified.

One of the youngest children to die from these complications at Seattle Children’s Hospital was Logan Shaffer, an infant born with half of a heart. Following a successful operation, Logan later suffered a heart aneurysm. A cardiologist determined that an Aspergillus infection caused the aneurysm. 

The families who sued Monday say they had no knowledge of the link between mold contamination and the Seattle Children’s Hospital until November 2019, when the hospital admitted to the unintended transmission of Aspergillus.

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